Politician, advocate, husband and father Paul Dewar succumbs to brain cancer


When former Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer early in 2018, he was given some straightforward advice: Face death and walk back into life.

Dewar, who died at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday, did both, with all the dignity and purpose he could muster.

According to a statement from his family issued Wednesday, Dewar was with his wife, Julia Sneyd, and sons Nathaniel and Jordan when he died.

He was 56 years old.

Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer early in 2018, Paul Dewar has died. 3:03

Before his death, Dewar wrote a letter that his family posted on Facebook Wednesday. He said his illness made him truly appreciate the beauty in the world

« I told you that I thought my illness was a gift and I genuinely meant that. In this time in between, I got to see the wonder of the world around us. » 

On Feb. 14, 2018, Dewar underwent surgery to remove a large tumour caused by the same incurable brain cancer that had killed Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie just a few months earlier.

Dewar chose to go public with his glioblastoma diagnosis in June 2018. He won widespread praise for facing his impending death with courage and grace, and for his resolute approach to the time he had left.

« It’s Grade 4, which is terminal. There is no cure, » Dewar told Robyn Bresnahan, host of CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning. In the same interview he also revealed he’d undergone the full range of treatment, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

« Then you hope for the best in terms of how much time you have to live. »

As the disease progressed, Dewar’s brain tumour affected his motor control, impairing movement in his left arm. Because he was left-handed, tying shoes and writing became more difficult. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Strong voice for human rights 

The support and admiration he received during his illness crossed party lines.

In an interview with Rosemary Barton, host of CBC’s The National, Dewar spoke of how MPs had reached out and shown him « love and support » in his illness — including Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who defeated Dewar in Ottawa Centre in 2015.

« While we may sit on different sides of the aisle, we’re all colleagues together, » a visibly shaken McKenna said in the House of Commons after news broke of Dewar’s diagnosis.

Dewar, seen here during question period in the House of Commons in April 2013, was a strong advocate for human rights around the world and often berated the government for what he saw as Canada’s failings abroad. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Politics in the family

Politics was a family affair for the former teacher. His mother was former MP and Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar. Dewar won the Ottawa Centre riding in the January 2006 federal election, taking over from former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.

On his first day on the job, Dewar told CBC he was aware of the high expectations resting on his shoulders.

« Yes, there is a gulp in my throat, » he said.

Dewar retained his seat through the 2008 and 2011 elections, winning a reputation as an engaging, down-to-earth politician.

Opposition critic

Then-opposition leader Jack Layton appointed Dewar foreign affairs critic, and he continued to hector the Conservative government over Canada’s failure to intervene in social injustices around the world.

During his nine years in office, Dewar championed many causes. He called on the Conservatives to denounce Uganda after its parliament introduced an anti-LGBT bill that included life in prison for those convicted. He spoke out against the mass murder of civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan. He criticized human rights abuses in Iran and Saudi Arabia, to which Canada had sold armoured vehicles. He also condemned Canada’s dwindling role in global peacekeeping, penning an editorial chiding the Conservatives for « a pattern of disengagement and withdrawal from the international community » and warning of the dire consequences of Canada’s new « arrogant isolationism. »

Paul Dewar’s mother, former Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar, spearheaded Project 4000, a campaign that brought 4,000 refugees fleeing Vietnam to Ottawa under private sponsorship. (CBC)

Dewar also refused to remain silent on issues closer to home, such as the raw sewage that for years had flowed into the Ottawa River during heavy downpours, the city’s lack of cycling infrastructure and the need for affordable housing at LeBreton Flats.

Dewar was also a vocal defender of federal public servants, especially when it came to threats against the independence of government scientists.

After Layton’s death in August 2011, Dewar announced his candidacy for NDP leader, but withdrew after finishing poorly on the first ballot.

Advocate for refugees

Dewar watched in 1979 as his mother, then mayor, spearheaded Project 4000, a campaign to bring 4,000 desperate Vietnamese « boat people » to Ottawa. In 2015, Dewar picked up that mantle, urging the Conservative government to fast-track thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s bloody civil war.

Speaking in 2015, the day after photos of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s corpse on a Turkish beach horrified the world, Dewar issued a call to action.

« Sometimes it takes that kind of image, and it was those images that my mother saw on the TV in 1979 that pushed her to act, » Dewar said.

Dewar often acknowledged his mother’s strong influence on his own politics.

« My mom was a strong feminist, and she said something very important and I learned at an early age: Don’t be afraid of power, know how to use and share it, and give it to those who don’t have it. »

Paul Dewar is flanked by his family after losing Ottawa Centre to Liberal Catherine McKenna in October 2015. (CBC News)

Created youth movement

After going public with his diagnosis, Dewar created Youth Action Now, an initiative to raise money to help engage young people to get involved in their communities. That movement will be among his lasting legacies.

As his disease progressed, Dewar took part in an immunotherapy drug trial at a Gatineau, Que., clinic aimed at prolonging his life.

« I really want more time with those two guys and Julia, » Dewar told CBC, his voice cracking with emotion.

« If I could steal more time, and hopefully I will, that’s what I want. » 

A celebration of Dewar’s life is expected to be announced in the coming days. 


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Le vérificateur général du Canada, Michael Ferguson, est décédé d’un cancer


Le vérificateur général du Canada au cours des sept dernières années, Michael Ferguson, est décédé d’un cancer. Il avait 60 ans.


Son bureau a confirmé la mort de M. Ferguson, samedi après-midi. Il était entouré de sa femme Georgina et de ses fils Malcolm et Geoffrey au moment de son décès.


« Ceux et celles qui ont eu le plaisir de connaître M. Ferguson conservent le souvenir d’un homme de tête comme de coeur, à la fois humble, chaleureux et réfléchi. Il se préoccupait avant tout de livrer des audits porteurs de valeur pour la fonction publique, avec le souci constant de servir l’intérêt des Canadiennes et Canadiens », peut-on lire dans le communiqué de presse publié par le Bureau du vérificateur du Canada.


Une porte-parole du bureau a précisé que M. Ferguson recevait des traitements pour son cancer, mais qu’il n’avait pas pris de congé de maladie. « Il demeurait très impliqué dans la gestion du bureau. Tout ça est assez soudain », a dit Françoise Guyot, la directrice des communications externes.


En novembre, M. Ferguson n’avait pas présenté une conférence de presse ou accordé des entrevues lors de la publication de ses rapports automnaux.


Craig Scott, un professeur d’université qui était membre d’un groupe qui le conseillait, a indiqué que M. Ferguson avait fait une récidive d’un cancer au cours des dernières semaines. « J’étais stupéfait », a-t-il reconnu.


M. Ferguson avait été nommé à ce poste par le premier ministre d’alors, Stephen Harper, en novembre 2011.


Dans un premier temps, les partis de l’opposition avaient refusé d’appuyer cette nomination, car M. Ferguson ne parlait pas le français. Le haut-fonctionnaire a réussi à apprendre la langue de Molière, ce qu’ont soulevé de nombreux élus.


« Il s’était engagé à apprendre le français. J’avoue avoir une grande admiration pour lui parce qu’un an plus, lorsqu’il fait son premier rapport, eh bien, il le fait dans les deux langues. Il avait tenu promesse. Ça, c’est tout en son honneur », s’est rappelé le député bloquiste de Bécancour — Nicolet — Saurel, Louis Plamondon en entrevue à La Presse canadienne.


Le député néo-démocrate de Rimouski-Neigette — Témiscouata — Les Basques, Guy Caron, a renchéri en affirmant que M. Ferguson avait « fait une bonne impression sur le public particulièrement pour le fait qu’il a appris le français très rapidement d’une manière tout à fait adéquate. »


M. Ferguson avait aussi acquis un respect général grâce à la qualité de ses rapports sur les dépenses gouvernementales. Il s’éloignait souvent du protocole installé par ses prédécesseurs lorsqu’il présentait ses rapports en exprimant sa frustration sur l’obsession gouvernementale du processus au détriment des résultats.


Avant d’être nommé, il avait occupé plusieurs postes au gouvernement du Nouveau-Brunswick, dont le poste de contrôleur pendant cinq ans, le poste de vérificateur général du Nouveau-Brunswick pendant cinq ans aussi, et les postes de sous-ministre des Finances et de secrétaire du Conseil de gestion pendant un an.


Il a obtenu son baccalauréat en administration de l’Université du Nouveau-Brunswick en 1980.


Des réactions unanimes

Le premier ministre fédéral Justin Trudeau s’est dit « profondément attristé d’apprendre le décès de Michael Ferguson ».


« Nous nous souviendrons de son dévouement indéfectible à la promotion d’un gouvernement ouvert et transparent qui rend des comptes aux Canadiens, a-t-il déclaré. Au cours des sept dernières années, son travail important en tant que vérificateur général a contribué à renforcer notre démocratie et à maintenir l’intégrité de nos institutions publiques à laquelle les Canadiens s’attendent. »

La présidente du Conseil du Trésor, Jane Philpott, a dit que M. Ferguson était « un grand serviteur du Canada et du Nouveau-Brunswick ».


Le député conservateur de Louis-Saint-Laurent, Gérard Deltell, n’avait que des bons mots pour décrire le disparu. « C’est un homme dont la charge était très sérieuse et très rigoureuse et il l’incarnait à la perfection. M. Ferguson était celui qui incarnait très bien la fonction de servir l’État et de servir les Canadiens. C’est un homme droit, un homme rigoureux et un homme honorable qui agissait avec noblesse dans son action. Il était une inspiration pour moi », a-t-il déclaré en entrevue à La Presse canadienne.


Son chef Andrew Scheer partageait l’opinion générale. « Il a servi les Canadiens avec honneur et dévouement durant sa remarquable carrière et il nous manquera », a-t-il écrit sur Twitter.

Le chef néo-démocrate, Jagmeet Singh, a qualifié la nouvelle de « terrible ».


« Michael Ferguson était une force incontournable ; il contribuait à garantir que le gouvernement travaille dans le meilleur intérêt de la population canadienne. Il nous manquera énormément », a-t-il écrit sur Twitter.

Pour M. Caron, le vérificateur général avait démontré sa volonté de servir. « Il l’a fait de façon exceptionnelle en s’assurant que le gouvernement soit tenu imputable de ses décisions. Dieu sait qu’il a été une épine aux pieds du gouvernement à maintes reprises », a-t-il fait valoir.


De son côté, le député Plamondon dit avoir toujours trouvé que ces rapports étaient « très étoffés, très pertinents ».


« Il prenait un ministère en particulier et il l’examinait à fond. Jamais il n’a été contredit sur des faits qui ont été énoncés. C’est une grande perte parce que c’était un homme incontestable et incontesté. Il était bien établi. Je crois que son mandat aurait été prolongé tant qu’il était compétent. C’était un homme charmant, distingué et très cultivé. »


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Chef Fatima Ali Has Died of Cancer at Age 29


We are saddened to share that Fatima Ali, a former Top Chef contestant, has died of cancer at age 29. A version of this essay is slated to run in our March print magazine. We are running it early online to share her perspective and honor her memory. Three months ago, Ali wrote for us about how she was spending her remaining months, following her terminal diagnosis. This version expands on her earlier piece.

I grew up in Pakistan, where food is a really integral part of the culture. I started cooking with my grandmother when I was six or seven, and she would teach me how to make little bread bears. They had peppercorn eyes and cloves for buttons, and I remember thinking it was such an amazing thing, that I could actually make something with my own hands.

After I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2011, my mom wanted me to come home, but I said “Just give me one year in New York City. There’s no place better for me to learn.” Every time I’d go back to visit my family in Pakistan, I would cook. Watching me evolve gave my mom comfort, and helped her understand that this was absolutely my calling. So she finally let go, and said, “Look, just promise me that you’ll do your absolute best. And I’ll be happy with that.” And I said, “Okay. That’s a promise.”

My first job was at an Indian-Latin restaurant in New York. I was a floor manager and the sous chef at the same time, weirdly enough. So I spent three days in the front, and four days in the back. I was doing seven-day weeks, 14-hour days. I did that for nine months. Later, at another job, my executive chef quit suddenly, as they often do. I was just a 21-year-old junior sous chef, but suddenly in charge of the whole place. I worked breakfast, lunch, dinner, catered all these super-VIP holiday parties. I’d get home at 1 a.m then have to wake up at 4 a.m. for a private breakfast party. One time several cooks called out and then the person who was transporting the catering trays dropped them all onto the pedestrian walk at 45th St. and Lexington Ave. In the middle of lunch rush. We had to remake everything, with all the cooks missing. There were plenty of days like that. But you know what? It was amazing. Managing to get through a day like that—and not only living to tell about it, but doing it again and again—I think it really makes you understand what a human is capable of. We’re so resilient. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change anything.

When I got diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Ewings Sarcoma, I had just finished filming Top Chef in Colorado. It was 2017 and I was working at the U.S. Open with my friend Joe Flamm, who was the winner and had opened up a pop-up restaurant there. I’d had this weird ache in my shoulder for the past couple of months that I’d been ignoring. You know, popping a couple of Advils, going to sleep. But one day, in the middle of lunch, my shoulder swelled up and the pain was mounting literally by the minute. I had to go to the emergency room.

They gave me an MRI literally within 20 minutes of seeing me, because I was in so much pain. I remember the doctor was exceptionally handsome. I remember standing over there crying my eyes out and this guy could be on a runway. He calls me on my cell phone and I’m thinking, “Ooh, this hot doctor’s asking me out.” But instead he says, “I want to refer you to an oncologist.” That was just the beginning. They didn’t discharge me from my first hospital admission for three weeks.

Honestly, until your first chemo cycle, I don’t think it really hits you. Then your hair starts falling out, and finally you’re like, “This is actually happening. This is the rest of my life.” I did eight rounds of chemo. It was horrible, but at the end, my scans were all clear. I thought I’d beaten it. Then it came back. Worse than before. It was metastatic. It had spread to my lungs. The doctors told me I had a year to live.

The first thing I did when I found out was dye my hair. Platinum blonde. I thought, “I’m dying, so why not?” I felt like I had to reclaim the hair thing. So I called this guy to my hospital room. Then I did one more round of chemo and all my frickin’ hair fell out again.

That sucked, but I was like, “You know what? Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I‘ve been to hospitals in New York and I‘ve been to hospitals in LA, and when you‘re around that much sickness, and you see people from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ages, in all stages of disease—it really gives you perspective. Because even now, it could be so much worse than it is. I‘m still very lucky to be able to do a lot of the things that I love.

I decided not to spend whatever time I had left (whether it’s a year, a month, another ten years—you don’t know until you’re gone) lamenting all the things that weren’t right. Instead, I’d make the most of it. I’m using cancer as the excuse I needed to actually go and get things done, and the more people I share those thoughts with, the more I hold myself to them. If I write this intention down, if I have it printed somewhere like I do here, I have to hold myself responsible, because I have people counting on me.

What is my intention? To live my life. To fulfill all those genuine dreams I have. It’s easy to spend weeks in my pajamas, curled up in my bed, watching Gossip Girl on Netflix. I could totally do that. And don’t get me wrong, I still watch Gossip Girl. But now I’m doing things. I’m going out to eat. I’m making plans for vacations. I’m finding experimental treatments. I’m cooking. I’m writing.

My brother and I have challenged ourselves to write a recipe a day—spaghetti; braised lamb with Pakistani spices and root vegetables; comfort food. Things I like to eat. Things people will actually make. Every day I come up with a recipe I’ve never made before, write it down in a notebook, make a little drawing of it, go shopping for those ingredients, and cook it. My brother wants to compile them all. He’ll turn them into something one day.

I’ve also been eating at a lot of restaurants. Vespertine, Sushi Masa, Broken Spanish, Kismet. I went to Eleven Madison Park with my family and the manager, a friend of mine, made a replica of my food stall, VanPakistan, in the kitchen. Down to the tablecloth. Down to the kind of napkin dispenser I had. The chef made the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth Seekh kebabs I’ve ever had, with flatbread and pickled onions and green chutney they had made just for me. My mom was in tears, bawling. My older brother was crying. Everyone was hugging each other. We were blown away.

We’re planning a trip to Europe: Austria, Italy. I want to eat really phenomenal Parmesan and balsamic and fresh buffalo mozzarella and real Italian tomatoes and basil and fresh pasta with good olive oil and great cheese. That’s all I fucking want. Oh, and I DM’d Noma. I was like, “I’m coming to town. I hope even if there aren’t spots, you could make a spot for me.” I received a reply from chef Rene Redzepi himself. Turns out people respond when you tell them you’re dying of cancer.

My brother and I were talking the other day and he made an interesting point. He was like, « As chefs, you guys deal with death every day. » And he’s right. When you’re a chef, you understand the circle of life. We’re butchering rabbits, whole hogs, and baby lambs; we’re filleting fish and cleaning shrimp. All these things have died for us. I suppose you have to see it as the natural progress of life. Perhaps I’ve had to face it a little bit sooner than expected, but it’s not an unfamiliar feeling.

There are days that I’m exceptionally afraid. There are days I sit alone and cry, because I don’t want to do it in front of my family. And there are other days that we all sit down and cry together, because it is such a scary thing. But at the same time, you can’t let that fear cripple you. It’s harder being miserable than it is to be happy.

As told to Hilary Cadigan on November 28, 2018


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Québec s’occupera des soins bucco-dentaires des enfants qui ont eu un cancer


Photo: Jacques Boissinot La Presse canadienne
La ministre de la Santé, Danielle McCann

Québec couvrira à l’avenir les frais des soins bucco-dentaires des enfants qui ont eu un cancer. De lourdes et coûteuses opérations leur sont souvent nécessaires après des traitements de chimiothérapie ou de radiothérapie. « Nous allons réparer cette grave injustice et alléger le fardeau des familles », a déclaré la ministre de la Santé, Danielle McCann, vendredi. Le programme entrera en vigueur le 1er avril. Chaque année, près de 300 enfants reçoivent un diagnostic de cancer au Québec. « Les survivants » ont trois à quatre fois plus de risques que les autres enfants d’avoir des problèmes dentaires à l’âge adulte. Les traitements médicaux requis peuvent atteindre des coûts pharaoniques, de l’ordre de dizaines de milliers de dollars. Or, actuellement, la Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec ne couvre pas les soins orthodontiques ni les implants.


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Québec s’occupera des soins buccodentaires des enfants survivants du cancer


Québec s’assurera de couvrir les frais des soins buccodentaires des enfants qui ont eu un cancer. De lourdes et coûteuses opérations leur sont parfois nécessaires après des traitements de chimiothérapie ou de radiothérapie.

La ministre de la Santé et des Services sociaux, Danielle McCann, en a fait l’annonce vendredi lors d’un point de presse au CHU Sainte-Justine à Montréal.

« Une proportion importante des enfants qui ont eu un cancer pédiatrique sont à risque d’avoir à vivre avec des séquelles buccodentaires. La mise en place de ce programme apportera une lueur d’espoir additionnelle à toutes les personnes, tant les enfants que leurs proches », a déclaré la ministre.

Les modalités du programme seront annoncées d’ici avril prochain.

Actuellement, la Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec couvre les soins dentaires pour les enfants de moins de 10 ans. Les soins orthodontiques et les implants sont toutefois aux frais des Québécois qui en ont besoin.


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Ovarian cancer patients fearful as Canada grapples with specialist shortage


Colleen Tkachuk is facing difficult odds. She has Stage 4 recurrent ovarian cancer. The diagnosis is frightening but the 48-year-old says the worst part is feeling like she’s facing the disease alone.

“If you have an issue, you don’t know who you’re going to see. You don’t know who you’re going to contact. It’s scary,” Tkachuk said.

READ MORE: Simple CT scan shows responsiveness to ovarian cancer treatment

Last October, there were two full-time gynecological oncologists based in Tkachuk’s hometown of Saskatoon. By the end of the 2018, there was none.

Instead, patients are left to rely on locum doctors who fly in for a few weeks at a time. In nearby Regina, the situation is not much better. The city is losing one of its two specialists this June.

“When you go from four specialists (in Saskatchewan) to one, it’s a pretty scary thing for patients,” said Stephanie Gosselin, Saskatchewan and Manitoba regional director for Ovarian Cancer Canada.

Gynecological oncologists are highly trained specialists who treat cervical, uterine, vulvar and ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death for women in Canada.  According to Ovarian Cancer Canada, 1,800 women will die of the disease each year.

According to the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of Canada (SGOC), the city of Kingston, Ont. is also struggling to recruit and retain specialists, especially as Canada deals with a national shortage brought on by a perfect storm of medical leaves, retirements and international competition.

WATCH BELOW: Retired RN’s “normal healthy life” changed in an instant after ovarian cancer diagnosis (Sept. 5, 2017) 

SGOC President, Dr. James Bentley says physician burnout is also a major factor.

“If you are in a small specialty, your on-call requirements are going to be significant,”  Dr. James Bentley said. He added in some cancer centers, doctors are sharing on-call loads with just one or two other physicians.

“Year after year, that is going to wear on people.”

For patients like Tkachuk, seeing her specialist struggle under such a heavy workload was worrisome.

“You can see how tired they are.

“When someone gets burned out and tired, they’re not enjoying what they’re doing anymore. Maybe they don’t want to help you anymore? You don’t know.”

That’s why Bentley says the SGOC released a set of Pan-Canadian guidelines for Gynecologic Oncology last year. Produced in partnership with the Canadian partnership against cancer, the document calls for every Canadian cancer centre to staff a minimum of three specialists.

“A minimum of a three-person gynecological team can reduce surgeon fatigue, contributes to shorter operative time and thereby produce optimal outcomes,” the document reads.

WATCH BELOW: Dr. Tim Holland addresses the doctor shortage in Nova Scotia and the impact it’s having on a refugee health clinic in Halifax (Jan. 10, 2019) 

The SGOC is currently working to speak with provincial ministers of health across the country to discuss ways to implement the new standards.

READ MORE: Johnson & Johnson ordered to pay $4.7 B in talcum powder ovarian cancer case 

For ovarian cancer patients in Quebec, there is another problem limiting access to specialized care: geography.

Most of the province’s gynecologic oncologists are based in Montreal, Quebec City and Sherbrooke, meaning women in northern and eastern Quebec must travel significant distances for appointments.

“We know that not all women are opting to travel these distances and are not being diagnosed and treated by gynecological oncologists and we also know that this is associated with poorer outcomes,” said Jennifer Laliberté, Quebec Regional Director at Ovarian Cancer Canada.

Back in Saskatchewan, an international recruitment campaign is well underway.

Tkachuk says she’s hopeful that a permanent doctor can be found soon.

“When you know that they’re there with you for this long journey, it takes away the fear because no one wants to go through it alone.”

WATCH BELOW: Seventy-five women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Saskatchewan each year, and 55 lose their lives. But does that outcome need be so severe? Ovarian Cancer Canada thinks not and it is hopeful a new drug can reduce that number. David Baxter has more. (Jul 27, 2017)

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Newfoundland woman opens her heart — and her home — to cancer patients


Last January, Laura Elliott took the first steps of the toughest journey of her life.

The native of South Brook, N.L., now living in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., was diagnosed with breast cancer and started down a long road of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.

Two weeks later, she got more bad news. Her mom, Judy Jackson, called to say she had cancer too.

« It was pretty difficult for myself and my mom and our whole family, » she said. « As we couldn’t be there in person, we had to be supportive over the phone and FaceTime. To have one person go through it in a family, then have two go through it at the same time, it was pretty difficult. »

Laura Elliott underwent treatment for breast cancer in 2018. (Submitted by Laura Elliott)

The one positive in their experience, she says, was the fact they were going through the treatments together and were able to support each other.

« I was about two or three weeks ahead of her. Every appointment, every surgery, just pretty much all of our treatments, we were talking back and forth every day, » she said.

The journey wasn’t exactly the same for the two women, though.

Elliott had only a half-hour drive to receive her radiation therapy in Alberta. Jackson had to travel five hours from South Brook in central Newfoundland to St. John’s for hers.

Judy Jackson of South Brook came to St. John’s for cancer treatment. (Submitted by Laura Elliott)

She was fortunate to have a brother in the city with whom she could stay for free.

She found lots of others, however, who didn’t have it so well.

« We did some research, and there’s a lack of accommodations for people that are dealing with cancer, » Elliott said. « People staying in expensive hotels, and then gas and food on top of that. I’m sure it would have been a nightmare. »

That’s why she and her family decided they needed to do something to help.

On the walls of the Elliotts’ guest room, cancer patients will find inspirational messages. (Submitted by Laura Elliott)

« Dealing with cancer is stressful for any family, » she said. « Me and my husband decided we should take the burden off other families and open up one of the rooms in our home to cancer patients to relieve the stress of finding accommodations, and the cost of accommodations. They’re not cheap. »

They fixed up a room and registered their availability with cancer charities. After attracting a lot of attention on social media, they’re expecting their first patient any day now.

Elliott hopes the people who stay with her family can benefit from more than just a bed.

The Elliotts have prepared a guest room for visiting cancer patients. (Submitted by Laura Elliott)

« To be there for somebody else, to help them through their journey to add a positive vibe to their life, is what brings happiness to us. »

She says all the support she and her mom received through their own cancer journey, from many different sources, has encouraged and inspired them. And she believes it helped their healing.

« My mom is doing very well. She’ll start her reconstructive surgery this year, » she said. « I still have maybe one more surgery to go through. I had some difficulty with my first surgery I had back in April. We’re both cancer-free right now. »

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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‘Burned out’: Saskatoon cancer doctors reveal reasons for departures


After working nearly every day for 13 years, Dr. Christopher Giede doesn’t really know what to do with all of his free time. He plays the electric guitar and feeds his pet sheep, but he can’t stop worrying about his cancer patients.

Those concerns creep into his dreams: « Are his patients being cared for in his absence? Do they feel he abandoned them? »

In September, the 55-year old gynecologic oncologist went on medical leave.

« I’m physically unwell and can’t carry the load anymore, » Giede said, during an interview at his home near Saskatoon. « There has been a lot of psychological stress in the past couple years, and that has not helped with the physical stress. » 

The only other gynecologic oncologist in Saskatoon, Dr. Anita Agrawal, quit her job in December. She told CBC News that she was « burned out » and tired of asking for support. She accepted a job in Ontario. 

The situation in Saskatoon is being repeated in other smaller cities across Canada. 

Kingston, Ont., and Sherbrooke, Que., for example, have had a difficult time recruiting and retaining gynecologic oncologists, especially in the midst of a national shortage due to retirements, disability leaves, international competition, and growing demand from an increasing patient load, according to the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of Canada.

Specialists are often drawn to departments in major centres with larger teams and more resources. In both Calgary and Winnipeg, for example, there are five gynecologic oncologists on staff and each is only on-call every fifth weekend. In Toronto, 21 specialists share the workload.

‘You feel in peril’

Saskatchewan is losing three of its four gynecologic oncologists by June of next year; two in Saskatoon and one in Regina.

Dr. Anita Agrawal says a lack of manpower and support made it difficult to maintain the level of care for patients that she wanted to provide. (University of Saskatchewan)

A gynecologic oncologist is a highly-trained specialist who treats ovarian, cervical, uterine, and vulvar cancers. 

It’s a unique specialty in that gynecologic oncologists not only perform complex surgeries, they also shepherd women through the entire treatment process with post-operative chemotherapy and care.

« We become very attached to our patients, and vice versa, they become attached to us, » Giede said.

Ovarian cancer patient Kimberly MacKinnon received treatment from both specialists, and isn’t comfortable with locums being flown in to Saskatoon from Ottawa to handle her case.

« How well do they know my case? It’s devastating, and frightening. You feel in peril, » she said.

Workload issues

In October, the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency sent patients a letter notifying them that Saskatoon was losing both of its specialists; Dr. Giede was on an indefinite leave and Dr. Agrawal was leaving her practice in early December.

A subsequent statement from the Saskatchewan Health Authority said the specialists were leaving for « personal reasons. »

That’s misleading, both doctors contend, because their reasons are work-related. 

Giede said they’ve been asking the health region to hire a third gynecologic oncologist and add other clinical support for at least six years. He warns that the province’s pledge to « aggressively recruit » replacements is ill-fated unless workload issues are resolved.  

‘It feels like someone opened a trap door beneath me, and let me fall through,’ said ovarian cancer patient Kimberly MacKinnon. She is upset about the departures of two gynecologic oncologists in Saskatoon whom she trusted. (CBC News)

Pleas for help

Each year, another 240 women are diagnosed with reproductive cancers in Saskatchewan. The wait time for a hysterectomy for cancer is roughly four weeks, on par with Ontario, according to health ministry data from both provinces.

The prairie province is in a chronic quandary over staffing enough specialists to avoid burn out. Its small population of 1.12 million people only warrants — in theory— a certain number of specialists in any field.

Yet, patients are spread over vast distances and timely access often requires service in both Saskatoon and Regina. Specialists need a certain critical mass to maintain a work-life balance.

When Giede accepted a job in 2005 as Saskatoon’s only gynecologic oncologist, he was on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The arrival of a second gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Anita Agrawal, in 2008, provided some relief.

Still, the two doctors shared what they called a « one in two » ratio workload — meaning, each had to be on-call half of each month, on top of their normal clinical practice. If one took vacation, the other covered 24/7. 

Dr. Christopher Giede said treating gynecologic cancers is ‘intense work’ that requires respite. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

It wasn’t unusual for Giede to be called out of bed in the middle of the night to see a feverish chemo patient in the ER, catch a few hours sleep at the hospital, then perform a four-hour radical hysterectomy that day. 

« I could tell when we were both getting tired when we would argue over who was working more. And it was a silly argument because we were both working more than a full-time position, » Giede said. « We needed each other, and we need to work well or we would have collapsed long ago. »

As academic physicians, they were also expected to do research, teaching and administrative work.

‘You’re breaking bad news all the time’

The doctors started sending emails and letters requesting a third gynecologic oncologist in 2012. Their frustrations intensified when, that same year, the health region didn’t hire an eager young doctor who had been born and raised in Saskatoon and was seeking a job in the city.

« I love Saskatoon, and that was drawing me there, » Dr. Sarah Glaze told CBC News. She confirms she had multiple meetings with the university and health region, but with no job offer, she ultimately found work in Calgary.

Giede was particularly disappointed that health officials wouldn’t create a position for her, when it’s proven that homegrown doctors are more loyal.

Health officials argued that the number of patients didn’t justify adding a third specialist.

Magic number of 3

A recently published report on national best practices, called the Pan-Canadian Standards for Gynecologic Oncology, states that the magic number in any centre is a minimum of three gynecologic oncologists. That reduces surgeon fatigue and improves patient care.

« Physician burn-out is a huge problem, » said Dr. James Bentley, president of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of Canada. « If you’re down to two people for a long time, it’s very wearisome. We’re dealing with people who are sick, you’re breaking bad news all the time, long surgeries, complicated chemotherapy regimes. It’s not straightforward stuff. »

In Ontario, a hospital must meet that benchmark of three gynecologic oncologists on staff to be designated a Gynecologic Oncology Centre by Cancer Care Ontario.  

Dr. Christopher Giede feeds his pet sheep on his acreage south of Saskatoon. He’s on indefinite leave with disability benefits. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

Moncton, Halifax, and St. John’s all staff three gynecologic oncologists, but it has often proven challenging for those smaller centres, and others in Canada, to retain that number of specialists. 

There are 101 gynecologic oncologists operating in Canada, with about 85 clinical positions, as reported by the national society. Many of them only see patients part-time, and also work on research, teaching or administrative duties. 

In Giede’s case, he was expected to oversee resident physicians on top of a full patient load.

Aggressive recruitment

In 2015, the health region finally granted permission to hire a third specialist. However, Giede said, three years in a row, a potential candidate has rejected their job offer because of the work environment. 

Saskatchewan Health Minister Jim Reiter has directed the health authority « to do whatever they need to do to aggressively recruit » new gynecologic oncologists.

A job advertisement promises $467,000 – $587,000 annually, plus a $30,000 signing bonus with a three year return-of-service commitment.

The health authority is also offering to sponsor two gynecologic oncology fellowships, at roughly $200,000 each, in return for service in Saskatchewan — just as it did for Giede nearly two decades ago.

« When you have a homegrown doctor, there’s a stronger likelihood that they’ll stick around, » Reiter told CBC News. « Longer term, we think that’s going to help with retention. »  

Saskatchewan’s Health Minister Jim Reiter sat down face-to-face with Dr. Giede to listen to his concerns. (Mike Zartler/CBC News)

Giede said he is proof that the fellowship incentive is not enough, « if you then allow the person who you trained to get burned out. »

In a face-to-face meeting with Reiter, Giede made a pitch for a minimum of three gynecologic oncologists in both Saskatoon and Regina, as well as clinical associates, locum backfill, and first responder support from within the cancer agency.

The health minister confirmed that there is no plan to centralize services in just one city, and that a formal review of the program will take place shortly. Recommendations could lead to change in the program’s structure and staffing number.

‘We’ve been holding on’

This past summer, Giede’s neck pain flared up to the point he was popping anti-inflammatory pills, lying down at work, and heading straight to bed when he got home. 

Both Giede and Agrawal said they held on as long as they could, and didn’t plan their departures together.

« Our goal was to provide the best care that we could with all we had in us, despite the environment, » Agrawal said.

Giede will only return to the operating room if both his health, and the work environment, improve.

« Nobody wants a temporary fix. I’m confident that message has gotten out there. »


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Nova Scotia rejects $900K request for cancer treatment covered by Ontario


After three lines of chemotherapy and a clinical trial failed to cure Stephen Saunders, his doctors offered him hope: to send the Nova Scotia man to Boston and modify his T-cells to attack the cancer that’s otherwise left him with just months to live.

But at roughly $900,000 for treatment and the associated hospital stay, hope doesn’t come cheap.

Last week, Nova Scotia’s Health Department denied a funding request for Saunders, whose case highlights the ethical and economic dilemma that all provinces could soon be facing — whether to pay for a treatment that costs about five times more than other life-saving procedures like heart, lung and liver transplants.

Neither the health minister nor the medical director of the Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program would talk about the specifics of Saunders’s case.

But the Onslow Mountain man spoke openly to CBC about a life interrupted at 55 by a pain in his knee that turned out to be Stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma. About how he tries to get in his 10,000 steps on the good days. And about how much he wants to live. 

« There’s all kinds of reasons why I want to stay living, things I want to do, » he said. « Watching my kids grow up and being with my partner… bigger projects, travel maybe if I could. »

The cost of a life

Work is underway to potentially offer CAR-T therapy closer to home, but that doesn’t change the question of funding. 

Health Canada approved the treatment in September and clinical trials have begun. And in about 18 months, the pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review is expected to make a recommendation about the treatment’s value, which the provinces use when deciding whether it should be publicly covered.  

In the case of this treatment, it could be a life-and-death decision: in adults, CAR-T therapy is meant for patients whose blood cancer hasn’t responded to two or more lines of chemotherapy. 

Dr. Drew Bethune says that new treatments offer great promise but their cost can be challenging, especially when there’s limited data about their long-term success. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

​ »It’s a very difficult world we live in, with very difficult heart-wrenching decisions, » said Dr. Drew Bethune, medical director of the cancer care program. Bethune is among those who advise the Health Department on whether to fund an out-of-province cancer care request, but he wouldn’t speak directly to Saunders’s case.

But he said that if looking at a request for CAR-T therapy, Nova Scotia would need to weigh the extreme cost, with the evidence of its success and how other Canadian patients who have received it have responded.

« As much as we just like to say, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’ it’s our responsibility to see what impacts it has on the whole [cancer] program, the expense of it. »

Other provinces

Exactly how many Canadians have gotten public coverage for the cancer therapy in the U.S. is unclear, but Ontario alone has sent 26 adult patients in the last two years, according to figures from that province’s Ministry of Health. 

Children might be more likely to qualify for out-of-province funding for this therapy, Bethune suggested. A 2018 clinical trial showed the children and young adults treated with CAR-T therapy had an 80 per cent chance of complete remission, while a trial involving adults with the same type of cancer as Saunders showed a 40 per cent complete remission rate.

« I think the evidence is fairly clear that the pediatric age group has a greater success rate with the treatment than the adult age group — but even in the adult age group some of the results are really excellent, » Bethune said.

And he said Nova Scotia would be watching how patients elsewhere in Canada have responded to CAR-T therapy.

Hailey MacDonald says it’s unfair that Ontario is paying for CAR-T therapy for some of its residents, while Nova Scotia has not offered to pay for her father. (Save Stephen Saunders/Facebook)

Saunders’s daughter, Hailey MacDonald, said the decision not to fund her father’s treatment is proof of the inequity in Canada’s health-care system.

The family can’t afford the cost on its own, but she’s holding out hope Nova Scotia may change its mind; she said she got a call from the Health Department on Friday saying it « hadn’t yet made a decision. » 

Her father is flying to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston this week for a consultation, regardless of the response. 

« We understand as a family that this may not happen in time for my dad, » MacDonald said.

« We hope that that’s not the case, but there will be somebody else’s family member that will need this in the very near future. And Dad’s kind of paving the way for other patients. »


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Ontario boy diagnosed with liver cancer gets wish granted and trip to the North Pole


At only four years old, Cole Airey has endured far more than most children his age.

He has undergone numerous procedures, including the removal of one of his lungs. Cole was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer at 15 months old.

When he turned three, the Children’s Wish Foundation agreed to grant him a wish. A fan of Mickey Mouse and a lover of animals, he chose to go to Walt Disney World. That trip marked his first time on a plane.

“He was so excited … When we landed in Florida, it was a whirlwind of magic,” recounted his father, Chris Airey.

FLYING HIGH: Sick children take to the sky to meet Santa Claus

The family stayed at the 84-acre resort, Give Kids the World. Located in Central Florida, it offers week-long vacations to children with critical illnesses at no cost.

According to its website, more than 165,000 children and families have been treated to their whimsical community, entertainment and rides. One treat Cole especially relished: Ice cream for breakfast.

“It was just amazing. It was a place we could call home while we were away,” said his mother, Laura Shelton.

WATCH: Children’s Wish Foundation sends kids to North Pole in search of Santa (Dec. 11, 2014)

Prior to their trip, the couple was faced with a difficult decision.

“Cole had relapsed on his cancer journey. Our rare cancer has a blood marker and it had a specific value when we made our decision of were we going to try more treatment? Or were we going to give Cole what every child wants? And that’s just to be a kid,” said Airey.

By the time they returned home, his condition had improved. His parents attributed that to the magic of a wish and the people who made it possible.

“It gave him enough to keep fighting and I don’t think he would have been here today if it hadn’t,” said Shelton.

Their advice to other families is simple: Slow down and live in the moment.

Apart from a deep adoration for Paw Patrol, Batman and Iron Man, music has also been vital for Cole. It helped him through a number of hospital stays.

He underwent a liver resection, which lasted 13 hours. His lung removal surgery was more than 10 hours in length.

“We had such great teams and surgeons that you always felt their confidence,” said Chris.

“We’ve had experiences where doctors have come in and told us he’s not doing well and may not make it out of the OR and two hours later, he’s in the ICU.”

Cole has also helped pioneer two procedures at the Hospital for Sick Children, said Airey.

“It gives you such a feeling of pride for Cole for being able to persevere through it and just accomplishment that in our journey in some small way, we can help lots of other families,” he said.

On Wednesday, Cole will join dozens of other children on another journey. This time around, he will be bound for a much cooler destination.

Charity flight helps kids track down Santa in North Pole skies

For the fourteenth time, the Children’s Wish Foundation and Air Transat will be joining forces for the Flight in Search of Santa. The journey to the North Pole is made possible thanks to the contributions of volunteers and Air Transat employees.

Chris and Laura are dedicated to paying it forward. They plan on holding a fundraiser on Jan. 17. All of the proceeds will go to the Children’s Wish Foundation.

Their goal is to raise $10,000, which the organization said is the average cost of a wish. They hope to allow another child the opportunity to experience what their little boy has.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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